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The Great Show: Episodes 3-8 (Series review)

Aww I like this show so much. The Great Show didn’t tell us beforehand exactly what kind of a show it was planning to be and I really think it sells itself short. It’s so much better than its professed premise of performative politics colliding with a band of kids. A premise like this can easily be light on plot and succeed on slice-of-life strength alone, yet each week provides sharp turns and a degree of plot escalation which leave me honestly a little bit in awe.

We left off opening week with Dae-han declaring that he’d play dad to the kids, but Da-jung won’t forgive his initial rejection that easily. In a rather magnificent turn, she demands a written contract, and boom, you have the most unexpected contract relationship ever. It’s a great subversion of the trope which we’re so familiar with in the context of romance, and it creates a similar kind of tension.

They co-write the contract, each of them adding their own terms before they shake on it. It’s heartwarming and surprisingly poignant. I think it gives Da-jung the upper hand by a hair, too, as should the contract’s existence comes out, it won’t really hurt her materially, but it could unmake Dae-han completely. It’s a huge risk, but then that’s Dae-han: go big or go home (and he’s done both).

To continue the political theme, Dae-han also draws up a “constitution” for the new family to follow. Whatever his methods, his skills are unquestionable, and he really is the one bringing this wayward collection of individuals into a working order that may not be a perfect harmony, but is good enough. We know he’s driven by his desire to get his place back in the political ring, and just as he hopes, the new family generates the positive media interest he wanted.

Da-jung had made him agree to always put the kids first, no matter what, and one kid at a time, he’s immediately tested. I love conflicted Dae-han, and the fact that no matter how cynical he wants to be, he still has a tendency to respond from the heart. I think that is most evident when he hurls himself in front of a bus to save Tae-poong, risking his own life.

The way the show handles its episode endings are just great, because when the same event is replayed at the beginning of the next episode, it inverts the scene to give you two very different ways of seeing it.

It might be a moment of heroism for Dae-han, driven very much by his instincts as a genuinely better-than-okay human being… but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to turn every situation to his advantage and milk it whenever possible. I love that it maximizes both the emotion and the humor of the moment, and it’s something the show really capitalizes on, but with enough restraint that it remains delightful every time.

Da-jung might be the playmaker on the kids’ side, but she’s definitely not the only player. Surly Tak, for example, forces Dae-han to “prove” he wants him by making him buy him the latest phone (for his nonstop gaming). And man, the kid just kills it with his acerbic one-liners that speak Painful Truth. Then there are the twins: Tae-poong is a bratty disaster-magnet, while quiet little Song-yi hides her feelings even though she’s so tiny. They’re all kids with their own personalities and very different needs.

That’s the point where you think the show has hit its groove, and you settle in and make yourself comfortable. Of course, you would be wrong.

Dae-han’s ready for his big break with a TV comeback, headlining a debate show with Joon-ho as his opponent. Soo-hyun is the main writer for the show, so it places all our adult players in deliciously uncomfortable proximity.

That’s the stage where Dae-han begins his carefully calculated play to gain approval from both ends of the voter spectrum by taking on the sensitive subject of abortion. Just as he goes on record saying that his personal belief is that it’s a sin, Da-jung retches on air right there and you know what it means.

I did not see that coming for one second, and I’m amazed that the show just went there. I had no idea that was where the show was going! Neither did Dae-han! His immediate response to Da-jung’s pregnancy is for her to get an abortion, but in the end, Da-jung just can’t go through with it. She begs Dae-han to let her have the baby, but he staunchly refuses—she’s a minor! In high school!

We’re introduced to her sweetheart of a boyfriend, idol trainee CHOI JUNG-WOO (VIXX’s Hyuk), who is so sweet, guys. He comes off a little dim but his heart is the biggest. The way he steps up to be there for Da-jung is so lovely, and their relationship is believably mature. At first, I thought the relationship seemed way out of character for Da-jung (maybe because she looks like she’s fourteen), but they really convinced me.

Dae-han does eventually give his blessing (on live TV, of course), but not until Da-jung… well, blackmails him, threatening to expose the contract. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s the threat that worked on him, even if it pushed him over the last inch. He tells her later that the contract has become irrelevant: With the whole country’s eyes on them, they’re pretty much tied together for life after this. It’s a solemn moment for her as she realizes that she’s become a shackle for him, which was the last thing she ever wanted to do.

It’s these moments that remind you how vulnerable she is, and how tenuous the security she’s built. It scares me a little to think how much she’ll hate him and herself when she finds out that he isn’t her real father. There’s no way she’s going to see it the other way—that wow, this man took me in even though I am nobody to him. She just isn’t. She’s going to feel used and most of all hurt, because she’s already fallen for him as her dad. It won’t even matter that he’s fallen for her, too. Not at first, at least.

Soo-hyun begins to bond seriously with Da-jung over her pregnancy. I felt like Soo-hyun was a removable part early on, but I really, really like her as a character, and the way her storyline weaves through that of Dae-han and the kids.

A week or two ago, when Da-jung’s pregnancy was being revealed, I thought Soo-hyun’s past hid something similar—maybe an abortion or pregnancy of her own, and last week I was certain that her “sister” Ji-hyun was really her child (I know! Nothing is too crazy for dramaland!). But the true story of what happened to her sister definitely hit me harder, especially in the context of how it affects Soo-hyun in the present.

I’d suspected for a while that Ji-hyun wasn’t real (her parents never mention her, for example), so facing the spectre of her wasn’t a revelation, but it still injected the moment with a shock of sadness that brought me to tears. It’s the moment Soo-hyun gets to own her story as her own, not as a secondary existence to Dae-han or Da-jung. The two women really answer each other’s needs: motherless Da-jung so badly needs an older woman in her life, and Soo-hyun needs to resolve her grief from her sister’s death by helping Da-jung.

Joon-ho hasn’t made much of a move as Dae-han’s political rival, and has been fairly clear about his refusal to enter politics, though I’m sure that’s only a matter of time. On the other hand, he’s been very direct to Soo-hyun about liking her, but I love the way they resolve that with a frank, serious conversation that ends with respect and understanding.

Joon-ho’s role has not been particularly significant so far, but he’s really interesting and unexpectedly decent—still waters that run deep. I appreciate the texture of his character, which is so unlike any second lead I’ve ever seen. I look forward to him having a bigger role, and I hope he won’t lose that decency.

Joon-ho is a great one for telling Dae-han home truths, and it always adds dimension to their moments. It also makes him an excellent foil, and I think it would do Dae-han good to have his beliefs challenged. As rightfully as he despises nemesis Assemblyman Kang, he needs to realize that Joon-ho is not his father.

I’m really enjoying all the neighborhood drama, which brings Dae-han into frequent contact with Soo-hyun’s parents (who are the BEST). We get a glimpse of his and Soo-hyun’s almost-relationship in the past, but it’s tied so painfully into her loss and grief that it’s easy to see how the entire question of Dae-han is one that she doesn’t want anything to do with.

Dae-han also doesn’t deal with it as much as possible, but once Joon-ho asks the question of whether he likes her, it can’t be unasked. But sadly for him, being a soon-to-be grandfather really scuppers any romantic notions he might have before they ever start.

The reappearance of the Da-jung’s stepdad (Tak and the twins’ bio-dad) this week got my back up immediately: I hated the man on sight. What a piece of work. But at least it pushes Dae-han in all the right ways to realize a few things, like the fact that the kids’ safety and happiness are actually important to him, even though he’s using them.

Dae-han is certainly not an angel, and there were points where he did things that I thought were really low (like exposing Jung-woo to his agency CEO), but the stepdad is really human trash with nothing to redeem him. He also uses the kids, but with disgusting cynicism that doesn’t care about their wellbeing for a second, only how they can be turned to his benefit. It seems like he’s been put up to it by Assemblyman Kang, but either way, after insinuating himself into Dae-han’s life, house, and personal space, he’s really grabbed hold of his tail now.

As we reach the show’s midpoint, we can definitely expect some big game-changers. The way I see it, there are two things that would destroy Dae-han’s ascent if anyone ever got their hands on them at this point: one is the contract, the other is the paternity test. The genre-savvy part of me thinks, therefore, that it’s eventually inevitable for both of those things to come out.

I’m not sure what the worst possible outcome is with Stepdad having his hands on the paternity test. Blackmail? Leaking it to the media? Telling Da-jung? I’m afraid of the last one most, especially when you can see her visceral reaction to her stepdad, and how it brings her to make her plea to Dae-han to adopt them for real. I can honestly say I have no idea what we’re in for next, but I love what we’ve had so far.

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This show is surprisingly heartfelt. I am completely enjoying it. It is such a feel good drama. Also the way they are handling some of the more controversial issues is really beautiful.

Also literally every time Choi Jung Woo comes on screen I think to myself he is such a sweet boy. I literally say out loud he is so sweet.

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The pregnancy really threw me off, too! I was expecting a fun guy suddenly living with four kids hijinks, not anything serious. I liked the way they handled it.

I think (hope) Daehan will end up adopting the kids as his own but I don't know how Tak's bio-dad will play into that.

@egads You were right about Dajung's sister!

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I have a love/hate relationship with Dae-Han’s character. One minute I want to smack him and then the next minute I see hope/his loneliness/his ambition and want him to succeed.

I love that the show is going to places which are sensitive and delicate, but also makes me worry for all the drama is is going to unleash.

Really enjoying this show!!

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You are right, Dae-han is a character one definitely has a love/hate relationship with. He lies, he misrepresents, quid pro quo is rampant and then he pulls it all out with a heartwarming speech that turns us around 180 degrees until the next political optic opportunity arrives.
The problem is that lying politicians are the norm and we are becoming inured to them.
I hope Dae-han loses his bid for the seat in the assembly to a candidate who also supports the rights of the citizens but who also is an honest person. Dae-han can win the girl, who seems to need the children to heal, but no more prevaricating politicians.

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This is what's interesting -- Daehan got into politics just to weed out these kinds of politicians, but he became one. I've often wondered if a politician with good intentions (most people get into politics to try to help the world) can keep their integrity and still get elected. So far I haven't seen any succeed.

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You wont. Maybe in dramaland yes because it is a fantasy world. For instance, I loved the prime minister in "prime minister and I", but again, that only happens in dramaland. In real life, you won't be able to know a politician with good intentions and who would keep his integrity whatsoever. It is not possible.

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Part 1 of 2

Thank you for your recap of THE GREAT SHOW, @saya. I thoroughly enjoy this drama, which has repeatedly surprised me with twists that could have been makjang, but have instead registered as thoughtful or thought-provoking. In fact, most of the fireworks are related to Soo-hyun's folks and the bullying ajumma from hell.

I've been admiring Song Seung-heon's nuanced facial expressions, along with his comic timing. DR. JIN was my first Kdrama. SSH in the title role was distractingly wild-eyed back then. I'm thrilled to see that he continues his trend of lower-key acting I first noticed in BLACK. Come to think of it, he was terrific as a dad in the movie WONDERFUL NIGHTMARE.

Like you, I was completely hornswoggled into suspecting that Soo-hyun's sister was actually her child by Dae-han. I was completely fooled by the ghostly apparition, too.

Da-jung's pregnancy caught me flat-footed, as well – along with the abortion debate. I loved how Dae-han took the bull by the horns and publicly admitted to his knee-jerk reaction to the news of his daughter's pregnancy. Sure, part of it was damage control for his political career. But on another level, I believe a large segment of the population thinks the same way and understands where he was coming from. One thing that made me nuts was the criticism over his crummy parenting when he'd only recently even met his "daughter" for the first time, when she was already at least 2 months gone. Conception occurred on Mom's watch. Hrmph!

Tak is indeed a piece of work. But given what we've seen of his waste-of-oxygen father, maybe it's something of a miracle that he isn't more messed up. I'm expecting an epic 3-way bromance between Tak, Dae-han, and Jung-woo. "Dad" can identify with both of them at their respective ages. Who knows, maybe Tae-poong will make it a foursome in their mutual admiration society. One can only hope.

Tae-poong reminds me of Dennis the Menace, and frankly, he has pissed me off more than once. I felt so bad for the poor fish when he broke their tank. He's got zero impulse control, and needs a lot more attention than he's ever gotten in his short life. I guess that goes along with being a twin. Tae-poong reminds me of my feline nephew, a Maine coon ball of fire. When he was a hyperactive kitten, I hit upon getting him a "fishing pole" with a feather on the line, and proceeded to play with him until he collapsed in a little heap. Finding a similar way to channel the boy's energy would make for a happier home. Jung-woo would do it if he were on site, so I hope he ends up moving in, although he might have to pitch a tent in the yard. Maybe as Tak comes around, he'll be more inclined to act in a brotherly fashion towards the little guy.

- Continued -

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Part 2 of 2

Soo-hyun's place in the story is gradually and organically evolving. Dae-han didn't know he needed to have a noona/unni in the picture, but he did. I agree with you that her serving as unni to Da-jung (as well as advocate for the kids and sounding board for Dae-han) is as healing for her as it is for the motherless girl. I suspect that little Song-yi is going to start to see her as a mother figure at some point.

Lim Ju-hwan is doing a great job as the upright, principled Joon-ho. He seems to understand the meaning of “friendzoned.” That makes him something of a second-lead unicorn.

The big question in the back of my mind is how the kids' mother died. I half-expect to find out that National Assemblyman Kang ran over her on a dark and stormy night. Or maybe he was responsible for some other crime – for which he forced the kids' father to take the fall, which is why he suddenly went missing for two years. Or maybe creepy Dad bumped Mom off so he could collect the payout on her life insurance – to bankroll his gambling addiction. He’s baaaack because he’s out of money.

-30-

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@saya @pakalanapikake

Thank you - Thank you - thank you for such a thoughtful recap. Your writing is so much more than just a textual summary - I so feel the way you see the story depth but it never rambles.

I get why this is not popular on DB - many appeared to be expecting a re-run of "My Fellow Citizens"...and the show did fake that in episode 1. But this show is defiantly not that anymore and is almost Japanese-esque in the way it questions family norms and social conformity in the face of life.

I so agree, in what could have spiralled into makjang has given a much more sensitive touch. Its totally flips the Kdrama norms were challenges are seen through the worst of people and in this drama we see life's challenges by looking at their best selves.

Sure - it's prickly, sure no one gets their own way. But they aren't out to make at the expense of each other. Like life - it's a caring negotiation but played hard.

Like everything - its always more interesting at the edges. That's where things stop being singular and have to rub up against each other. Its where they hybridise into new and unexpected things. If you focus on how this show is so full of edges - it's quite beautiful.

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Where are you watching this? Thanks.

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In the US it’s available on viki

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Thank you for the reply!

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Thanks for the review. I agree with you that the show undersold itself. That also explained it's low ratings in Korea. Viewers could have been stayed away from it due to the perceived idea that it's yet another show about politics. At the end, it's a story about a man's decisions on his career, his family and his love life. Though there are the ups and downs in each of those areas each week, I believe it would be a happy ending in the end.
I love Lee Sun-Bin in "Sketch". Even though she is listed a main character on this show, she hasn't got as much opportunities to show her acting so far. I hope it would change in the remaining episodes.

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I agree. Really enjoyable and wholly unexpected. Can't wait to see what happens next. Although I'm finding the Joon-ho character to be a bit dorky, he appears to be honorable. It will be interesting to see where that goes. That Dae-han actually considered whether he would be a better representative for the market than him was a wonderful subtlety in the standard rivalry that I was expecting. Joon-ho will be cut when he discovers his father's support from behind the scenes. In addition, I'm so happy to be able to watch something where I don't have to accept that the female characters are stupid in order to accept the plot.

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THIS SHOW IS AMAZINGLY ENTERTAINING AND GIVE ME WONDERFUL SURPRISE IN EVERY EPISODES! All the of the actors are very very good and even the kids are very good actors. The first episode of the show already got my attention and devotion to the whole series and I can't wait to watch it every week. Wi Dae Han is definitely a father-hero figure not just national but internationally. They way the show ends every week makes me want jump instantly to next week so that I can watch it already. But now i saddened knowing this show is coming to an end soon. Please make the series longer!

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